22
Dec
2011
Top Ten Series of 2011
Comic Book Series
Chris
***Quick Note, yesterday's Best Characters list was co-written by Chris and Jordan. I'm just sleep deprived and deep down, a credit hog.***

2011 was a great year for comics. With the DC relaunch breathing new life into stagnant books and Marvel lining up A-List creative teams and fleshing out their most popular franchises with must read sister titles, it's hard to think of a better year to be fan. However while there were many, many great books, these ten were a cut above the rest.

#10. The Unwritten
-Mike Carey
-Peter Gross
Sometimes when a book delivers top quality material month after month, year after year, you tend to forget just how good it really is. You begin to take that book for granted. Such was the case with myself and Mike Carey and Peter Gross' The Unwritten. Focusing on the nature of stories and packed to the brim with literary references, analysis, and theories, you would be hard pressed to find a more cerebral comic on the shelves today. The Unwritten revolves around a young man who was the real life inspiration for a Harry Potter-esque character who begins to question his true nature and becomes embroiled in a massive conspiracy and targeted by a ruthless cabal intent on monopolizing the power of stories. 2011 saw Tommy Taylor and his friends learn more about the power they were tapping into and discover how Tommy could perform magic spells like his fictional namesake, and explored both the literary significance of whales and the pulp beginnings of the golden age of comic books. Tackling different kinds of stories allows Peter Gross to change his style and really display just how talented and versatile he is, and the nature of the book ensures there is really no limit to what Gross could be called on to draw next. Though we fans have come to expect nothing less than greatness from this series, a book that is pure magic month in and month out deserves a little recognition and our reaffirmed appreciation.

#9. Swamp Thing
-Scott Snyder
-Yanick Paquette, Marco Rudy
While many of the DC Relaunch titles have been top notch, most of them were excluded from this list simply because they only shipped 4 issues in 2011. The fact that Swamp Thing warranted inclusion on this list spite of this should speak volumes about just how awesome this title has been since the very beginning. Scott Snyder is deftly crafting an epic horror tale that is both shocking and disturbing. While other writers have opted for a start from scratch approach to their DC Relaunch titles, Snyder embraces all elements of Swamp Thing history, seamlessly weaving them into his interpretation of the character, which is a completely fresh take on the very concept of Swamp Thing. Whereas before Swamp Thing was a creature powered by the memory of the dead scientist Alec Holland, this series follows a resurrected Alec Holland, haunted by the memories of Swamp Thing, and hunted by powerful forces who believe he will play a pivotal role in a war between life and death. Throw in moody visuals and impressively thought out layouts by series artists Yanick Paquette and Marco Rudy and you have a book that fires on all cylindars month in and month out. This series may have only begun, but we can't wait to see where it goes next.

#8 Thunderbolts
-Jeff Parker
-Declan Shalvey, Kev Walker
One of the most consistently entertaining books in Marvel's catalogue is a title that probably flies below most readers' radar. Since it's inception the only constant with Thunderbolts is that the book follows a team of conflicted villains and that the status quo is liable to change at the drop of a dime. The current incarnation of the team focuses on incarcerated villains who under the supervision of the Avengers and other heroes take on missions for the U.S. government. The past year saw the team fighting one of their own: The Juggernaut had been chosen as one of The Serpent's hammer wielding acolytes during Fear Itself and was hellbent on destroying the city of Chicago with only the Thunderbolts to stand in his way. While the team was able to briefly halt his rampage, the majority of them escaped with the help of seemingly reformed graduate of the Thunderbolts program Fixer. Their escape plan, which combined elements of science and magic went horribly awry, accidentally throwing the fugitives into the time-stream and landing them on a World War II Battlefield caught between Captain America's Invaders and Baron Zemo's Nazi Scientists. Their next stop brought them to Victorian England, where team member Mr. Hyde quickly went native and took on the role of Jack the Ripper. Jeff Parker has made Thunderbolts into the comic fan's comic book. Magic, monsters, nazis, ninjas, time travel, anything can happen in this book, and the only thing that fans know to expect, is the unexpected. Artists Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey trade off every two issues providing a remarkable visual consistency to the book. Both artists are at the top of their game and primed to break out onto higher profile gigs at the end of their extraordinary run on this title, which I pray is years away.

#7 Morning Glories
-Nick Spencer
-Joe Eisma
Not since Lost, has a story brought us to the edge of our seats and left us craving answers like a junkie jonesing for their next fix as Morning Glories has. Focusing on six teenagers sent to live at a mysterious and diabolical boarding school that is as dangerous as it is bizarre. 2011 saw the book delve into a run of standalone issues, each delving into the back story of an individual cast member. Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma horrified us with Zoe's dark secret, confounded us with Hunter's unique problem, and made our heads explode with a jaw-dropping revelation about Jun. Joe Eisma's emotive character work add depth and subtext to Spencer's scripts, and his deceptively clean style make the twists of horror and violence all the more shocking. Spencer deftly advances the story each issue leaving the readership with about 20 new questions for every answer but his focus on characterization, and the fact that each new twist is just so intriguing makes for a satisfying read month in, month out, rather than a frustrating one. If there is still a Lost sized hole in your heart, give Morning Glories a try!

#6 Fear Itself
-Matt Fraction
-Stuart Immonen
Marvel's big summer event may have left critics divided, but we here at Review To Be Named couldn't get enough of it. Matt Fraction served up a story of the asgardian god of fear returning to reclaim his rightful title as king of the gods at a time when the nation was consumed by fear, devolving into a collective panic that gave strength to the Serpent. The series featured one pure fanboy moment after another beautifully rendered by the inimitable Stuart Immonen. Want to see eight of the Marvel Universe's biggest baddest heavies get their very own asgardian hammers and pumped up to Thor levels? Check out Fear Itself. Want to see Thor square off against an evil possessed Thing and Hulk? Check out Fear Itself. Want to see Captain America prove why he is the ultimate soldier and face down the Serpent with nothing but a random assortment of militia weapons? Do I really need to say it again. And if the blatant fan service and wall to wall action wasn't enough, Fraction's story is held together by the emotional core of a father's love for his son and the ridiculous lengths a parent will go to protect their child. Stuart Immonen handled the huge action sequences with same deft skill and attention to detail with which he crafted the quieter emotional exchanges. From start to finish, Fear Itself was a text book example of how to do a big summer blockbuster comic.

#5 Ultimate Comics Spider-Man
Brian Michael Bendis has wrote Ultimate Peter Parker for so long that I almost began to think of him as a creator owned character. So I supposed it's only fitting, and it is completely within Bendis' right that he decided to kill him. That didn't make it any easier to bear though. I've followed Ultimate Peter's adventures since he was first bitten by the spider that gave him his great power. His heroic adventures and soap operatic personal life had been a constant in my life for over a decade. I loved watching Peter struggle to learn how to be a hero and how to be a man. And in the end, Bendis showed us he had learned his lesson, he saved Aunt Many, Mary Jane, and Gwen Stacy, fighting off six of his most powerful foes in an effort that went well beyond great responsibility, it was the very definition of heroism. But damn was it hard to watch. So imagine just how shocked I was, still in mourning when I opened the cover of the new volume of Ultimate Spider-Man (still written by Bendis) to find myself beginning to care for this new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. Miles is not Peter, but he is similar in one big way: he's a young man finding his way, trying to figure out how to do the right thing. Miles is a much younger character than Peter was and that combined with his different ethnic and societal background ensure that we as readers are in store for Spider-Man stories unlike any we've ever read before. I hated to say, but after reading the first few issues, I was excited for more. 2011 was the year when Brian Michael Bendis took away what I consider to be the definitive take on Spider-Man, and started a brand new chapter.

#4 Detective Comics Vol. 1
While Dick Grayson began to wear the cape and cowl in Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, it was in Scott Snyder's Detective Comics that Dick truly became Batman. Snyder set Dick Grayson against the ultimate antagonist, Gotham City itself, and portrayed the city as a dark mirror that tested you by twisting itself to show you your worst nightmares and most secret fears. Interwoven with the story of Dick's trial by fire was a major turning point for the Gordon family, as the black sheep son of Commissioner Gordon returned home claiming to have been cured of his sociopathic tendencies. One part crime thriller, one part horror story, Snyder's Detective Comics kept readers guessing and looking over our shoulders at each little sound we heard while tearing through the newest issue. The gritty, moody pencils of Jock painted a grim and foreboding portrait of Gotham and a Dark Knight that looked truly terrifying while Francesco Francavilla's inspired layouts and breathtaking colors interwove the past with the present and painted a tale of psychological terror. Snyder's Detective Comics was instant classic and the Batman book for Batman fans.

#3 FF
-Jonathan Hickman
-Steve Epting, Barry Kitson
Dark. Melancholy. Gritty. Epic. Essential. These are words that have not been used to describe Fantastic Four in quite some time, if ever. There have been some great runs on the title in the modern age, but for the most part, the adventures of Marvel's first family did not feel as vital to the overarching narrative of the Marvel Universe as other characters did. Hickman made Fantastic Four a must read, but when he relaunched the title as FF he kicked his narrative into high gear, and began the endgame of a story the scale of which dwarfs nearly every Marvel Event from past decade. The Fantastic Four was gone. In its place stood the Future Foundation: Over a dozen brilliant young children mentored by the core team of Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing, Spider-Man, Nathaniel Richards, and Dr. Doom. Yeah. You heard me, Doom. Beset by threats on all sides, Reed Richards marshaled his closest allies and set himself to the task of solving everything. Over the course of the year, the family drifted apart due to the lingering pain of Johnny Storm's loss and the secrets the kept from each other depsite knowing better. In the end, they did what all good families do, apologized, forgave eachother, and gathered close to face the gathering storm. For good reason, legions of readers will be right there with them.

#2 Criminal: Last of the Innocent
-Ed Brubaker
-Sean Phillips
Face it. At one point or another, we all long for the past. Some time from yesteryear when life seemed simpler, our friends seemed closer, and everything just seemed to go our way. The latest arc of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Noir masterpiece focuses on the allure of nostalgia. In a stroke of genious, Brubaker weaves a twisted tale of murder, lust and betrayal starring a group of characters who bear striking resemblances to some of comics most famous characters: Archie and the Riverdale bunch. Seeing these send-ups of some of the most recognizable, wholesome icons of a simpler time in American history drink and get high and fuck and kill drives home the theme of how thoroughly we tend to romanticize and edit our past, how we are never quite completely honest with ourselves about the way things really were. This effect is further emphasized by Phillips shifting between his normal dark and gritty style for the sequences set in the present day, and cleaner pencils covered with thicker inks that is reminiscent of the in-house Archie style for the flashbacks to the characters' youth. The story revolves around a man who has become completely disenfranchised by the turns he has taken in life, and yearns for a time when he was happy, and the people who made him happy. He devises a plan to drastically change his life. Alll that needs to happen for him to be happy again, is for everyone around him to suffer horribly. The most powerful moment of the story is the deceptively happy ending, where it becomes clear who was the real victim of quite possibly the most heinous crime we've seen in the pages of this series.

#1 Uncanny X-Force
-Rick Remender
-Jerome Opena, Esad Ribic, Billy Tan, Mark Brooks
In 2011, there was no book that better illustrated the magic that comes from a creative team firing together on all cylinders. Rick Remender and an A-List roster of artistic talent showed readers their versatility in Uncanny X-Force crafting short arcs and standalone stories into a greater whole that coalesced in the massive and masterful 9 part Dark Angel Saga. As team leader Archangel was consumed by unspeakable evil, the rest of X-Force devised an ambitious and risky plan to save both him and the world. The beauty of Remender's story is that each team member was given not just a moment, but entire sequences of the story in which to shine. Betsy fought harder than anyone to save the man she loved and when it became apparent that all hope was lost, she fought that same man with everything she had. Wolverine was reunited with alternate reality versions of those nearest and dearest to him and forced to relive their loss all over again. Deadpool proved that he was not only a merc with a mouth, but with a heart too, displaying numerous times that he was willing to die both for his friends and the cause. And then there's Fantomex who eschewed his callous mercenary persona stepping up time and time again to give his teammates a fighting chance when all seemed lost while spewing one nihilisticly hilarious quip after another. Remender put his characters through the ringer both emotionally and physically, stripping them down to their cores and showing us the redemptive power of camaraderie and purpose. And while Uncanny X-Force seemed to bring out the best in every artist who stepped onto the title, I would remiss to not specifically cite the work of Jerome Opena. Opena's visuals were as brutal as they were emotive, rendering each panel in painstaking detail. There are very few artists who can lend the level of subtlety to figures the way Opena can, or visually suggest pain with each stab and punch. All year long Uncanny X-Force delivered a character driven, action thrill ride, that was infused with humor, sorrow, surprises, all while closely examining hard questions regarding morality and redemption. It wasn't just the perfect x-book, it was the perfect comic.
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